It's Over for Bernie Sanders Unless He Wins Over This Group

February 10th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

Much has been made of how young voters and women propelled Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) to a virtual draw in Iowa, and a landslide victory in New Hampshire. However, for Sanders to maintain that momentum, he'll need to win over one group that has yet to feel the Bern — minorities. 

Bernie supporters in New Hampshire

Despite indications that Sanders might be able to at least compete in South Carolina by repeating his strong showing with moderates and conservatives in New Hampshire, his campaign also appears to be doing what it can to cut into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's considerable advantage among minority voters.

In the first step of a concerted effort to increase his visibility with Black voters, Sanders met on Wednesday morning with prominent civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton for breakfast in Harlem.   

Sharpton told reporters on Wednesday that the two met to discuss the concerns of Black voters. "Our votes must be earned, none of us can be kingpins," he said

"I've asked him very bluntly about affirmative action. I've asked him very bluntly about police brutality and police misconduct," Sharpton was reported as saying after the meeting. "My concern is that in January of next year, for the first time in American history, a Black family will be moving out of the White house. I don't want Black concerns to be moved out with them." 

Sanders' Campaign Thinks His Message Will Resonate With Black Voters 

At a raucous primary party in Concord, New Hampshire on Tuesday night, a senior Sanders advisor told reporters that the candidate had yet to make inroads with minority voters due to their lack of familiarity with him.

"We're really looking forward to the opportunity to compete [for the votes of] Latinos and African Americans," said Ted Devine, who previously worked on the campaigns of Democrats Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis.

Bernie supporters

Devine said Sanders' personal story — from his upbringing in an immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn, to his path to civil rights and social justice activism as a college student — would resonate powerfully with minority communities. But he also noted that the candidate's populist political platform should stand on its own merits.

"This message is not limited in scope. It affects people all across the political spectrum," he said. "We think telling his story and what came of it — his fight for equality, civil rights, his fight against inequality, and economic injustice — is very, very powerful." 

According to Devine, the candidate will make a number of appearances in the coming days to boost his appeal among minority voters. Later this week, Sanders will reportedly speak at a forum on "Black America" in Minneapolis, and his campaign has scheduled television ads targeted to minority voters in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado, and Massachusetts. Though some prominent Black activists have voiced their support for Sanders', the candidate has in the past run afoul of activist groups like Black Lives Matter, members of which interrupted the candidate during a Seattle campaign speech in August. 

The protesters sought to call out Sanders for not addressing racial injustice and the systemic use of overbearing police tactics against minority communities. Following the demonstration, Sanders rolled out an official plan to address those issues, which included tackling violence in four categories: physical, economic, legal, and political.